SC Upholds Green Ministry’s Advisory on Import, Possession of Exotic Live Species in India

In a move that will ensure better protection of exotic live species of birds and animals in India, the Supreme Court has upheld the June 2020 advisory issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on declaration of stock, dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging its legality and validity.

Exotic live species are animal or plant species moved from their original range (location) to a new one. These species are introduced to a new location most often by people. The advisory was issued as the Covid outbreak raised global concerns over wildlife trade and zoonotic diseases.

The order by the bench of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli said: โ€œOnce a declaration within the window of six months as provided under the Advisory is made, the exotic live species, including its progeny, the declarant or transferee(s) are fully exempt from explaining the source of exotic live species. The exotic live species which is declared or its progeny, are not liable to confiscation or seizure by any Central Agency or State Agency. Consequently, the declarant or the transferee(s) of such declarant will be immune from prosecution under any civil, fiscal and criminal statute by any Central or State Agency. Any other interpretation would lead to absurdity.โ€

In line with the advisory, the SC held that โ€œany declaration made after the expiry of the window shall carry no such exemption and the declarer shall have to comply with all requisite documentation under the extant laws and regulationsโ€.

The advisory has been the subject matter of challenge before various High Courts on identical grounds. However, it has been upheld at all junctures โ€“ be it the Delhi High Court judgment dated October 23, 2020 in the plea filed by the Khodiyar Animal Welfare Trust; judgment of the Rajasthan High Court dated October 14, 2020 on the plea by Vivek Swami; judgment of the Meghalaya High Court dated October 14, 2020 on the plea by J.S. Wahlang Vs. Union of India; or the judgment of the Allahabad High Court dated July 30, 2020 on the plea by Dinesh Chandra through Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Others.

Not a Wild, Wild Country: Better Care to Zoonotic Diseases, How Govt Advisory Protects Exotic Animals

The MoEFCC allows the holders of such species to give information on the exotic species through voluntary disclosure. The registration is to be done for the stock of animals, new progeny, as well as for import and exchange.

Through the advisory, the MoEFCCโ€™s aim is ensure better management of the species and to guide the holders on proper veterinary care, housing and other aspects of well-being of the species.

The database will also help in control and management of zoonotic diseases on which guidance would be available from time to time to ensure safety of animals and humans.

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